All nine Bronx City Councilmembers voted last week to pass a resolution to make April 29 “End Jew Hatred Day,” but it didn’t come without controversy — six progressive Brooklyn electeds didn’t give the motion the green light.
The legislation was put forth by Brooklyn District 48 representative Inna Vernikov, a Republican, and co-sponsored by 13 other councilmembers — including Eric Dinowitz, a Jewish Democrat who also serves as the chair of the New York City Council Jewish Caucus.
Vernikov expressed her disappointment for her six colleagues who chose not to vote yay on her resolution, which recognizes “April 29 as End Jew Hatred Day annually in the City of New York,” according to the council notes. Brooklyn councilmembers Alexa Avilés, Charles Barron, Jennifer Gutiérrez and Rita Joseph — who later expressed her regret — abstained from the vote. Brooklyn District 39 councilmember Shahana Hanif and Brooklyn District 37 representative Sandy Nurse voted no. The lawmakers are all part of the City Council’s Progressive Caucus.
“A disturbing nationwide trend of antisemitic hate crimes has engulfed our city,” Vernikov said in the council chambers last Thursday. “I thank … all my colleagues for the bipartisan support this resolution has received, but it’s also astounding to see the councilmembers who clearly do not want to end Jew hatred. Your antisemitism is showing.”
Vernikov said she was a Jewish refugee whose family was “impacted by the atrocities of the Holocaust.”
As I mentioned the atrocities of the Holocaust on the chamber floor today, while asking for support of my resolution to #End Jew Hatred, it was sickening to listen to NO votes & Abstentions. Even as I referenced our grandparents being sent to concentration camps and gas chambers.
— Councilwoman Inna Vernikov (@InnaVernikov) April 27, 2023
Dinowitz — who represents the Bronx sections of Bedford Park, Kingsbridge, Riverdale, Norwood, Van Cortlandt Village, Wakefield and Woodlawn — said some of his colleagues who abstained or voted no were conflating different issues. Barron said he was going to abstain because of the “inconsistency of leaders in the Jewish community” to stand up against all forms of discrimination, including what he said were forms of hatred against Palestinians and the Black community in South African Apartheid.
“It’s just incorrect to say that the Jewish community does not stand with our brothers and sisters in other communities,” Dinowitz said during the meeting. “When you attribute actions of another country to Jewish New Yorkers who are facing a rise in antisemitism, I’m not sure what else to call it.”
Hanif, a freshman on the council, defended her no vote at the meeting last week. She claimed that far “right-wing Islamaphobic” groups and individuals, who she “refuse(s) to collaborate with,” were the ones that “catalyzed” the resolution.
“They have not stood up for Muslims, they have not stood up for trans New Yorkers, or anybody, and I have not seen my colleagues step up — those who introduced this legislation — to support our trans siblings,” she said. “So, I find this moment, this engagement right now on the floor, extremely rude and disrespectful.”
Hanif is the first Muslim woman elected to the City Council, and the first woman to serve Brooklyn’s District 39.
The Bronx, where all councilmembers voted in favor of the resolution, was once home to a large Jewish population.
According to the Bronx Synagogues organization, the first large influx of Jewish immigrants to settle in the Bronx were those from Germany and Hungary in the 1840s, in the wake of Irish immigrants who came to work on the construction of the Harlem and Hudson railroads.
There were more than 360,000 Jewish people living in the South Bronx in 1940, but by 2007 there was estimated to be fewer than 2,500 left. Many moved to northern Bronx neighborhoods and New York City suburbs. Westchester County, in fact, is estimated to be the eighth-largest Jewish county in the U.S., home to nearly 150,000 Jews.
Now, Riverdale, the East Bronx and City Island are some of the most heavily populated Jewish neighborhoods in the borough.
Dinowitz, who represents some of these north Bronx neighborhoods, said during the City Council meeting last week that he was “upset” at the notion that the Jewish community doesn’t stand up with other marginalized groups.
“Every time we have a press conference about attacks on other communities we stand together, and to ignore that … is to willfully ignore the partnerships and the friendships that we have in this body,” he said.
Hate crimes by bias motivation citywide showed that anti-Jewish complaints were the highest among all other groups in 2022 with 261 reports, according to the NYPD.
The Anti-Defamation League also reported that New York state led the nation in reported antisemitic incidents in 2021 with 416 total, which accounted for 15% of the total reported antisemitic incidents nationwide. Included were also 51 incidents of antisemitic assault in 2021 — a 325% increase from the 12 reported in 2020.
The Bronx has also seen anti-Jewish attacks in the last few years.
In February 2022, Dinowitz and other borough politicos denounced recurring racist and antisemitic graffiti found at the Spuyten Duyvil Playground, Bruce Silverman Athletic Fields and near the Riverdale Jewish Center. In November of last year, multiple City Island businesses were targeted with racist and antisemitic hate mail cartoons.
And just last month, a man launched a concrete slab through a family’s Pelham Parkway apartment window that had Israeli flag and other pro-Israel sentiments hanging from it.
The council passed the resolution by majority vote at the body’s last regular meeting, making every April 29 End Jew Hatred Day in New York City.
Reach Camille Botello at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes